Maria Pierce, Fiona Keogh and Eamon O’Shea
This post summarises very recent developments in Ireland’s long-term care policy response to COVID-19 which are explained in more detail in the latest country report on this site.
The response to COVID-19 for people with long-term care needs is continuing to focus mostly on people in nursing homes and other residential care facilities, including those for older people, people with a disability and people with mental health problems. Residential care facilities are a particular concern for the National Public Health Planning Emergency Team and for government, as COVID-19 outbreaks in all types of residential care facilities continue to rise.
Testing of staff and residents across all long-term residential care settings, ongoing since 17 April, has resulted in a sharp increase in the number of COVID-19 cases and there has been an increase in COVID-19 related deaths in these care settings.
A range of measures have been put in place to prevent the outbreak and contain the spread of COVID-19 in residential care facilities. This includes guidance on infection prevention and control in residential care facilities, which is continually updated, supporting staff, providing access to Personal Protection Equipment, and the redeployment of staff to residential care facilities. This has proved challenging due to Ireland’s ‘mixed market’ for residential care facilities. A set of resources aimed at supporting care to people with dementia in residential care facilities has also been introduced.
Other measures taken by the government are the establishment of a Temporary Financial Support Scheme to support private and voluntary nursing homes to take measures to further mitigate against a COVID-19 outbreak and be capable of managing any outbreak that occurs.
Residential long-stay facilities for older people that are free from COVID-19 are now required to complete a self-assessment schedule according to a Regulatory Assessment Framework of preparedness for a COVID-19 outbreak, and against which they will be assessed during on-site visits by HIQA, the regulatory body, commencing from 29 April onwards.
Community care has received relatively little focus during COVID-19 emergency. However, guidance for health care workers who visit homes to provide care has recently been updated to incorporate new guidance on the use of surgical masks. Home Support staff as well as staff working in residential care facilities are eligible to apply for temporary accommodation, which is being set up by the HSE.
Most community-based services and supports have been closed during the COVID-19 emergency and home support has been reduced, and family carers have been left with much of the responsibility of caring for community-dwelling people in need of long-term care.